By Edeline Anne Goh
You’re a young adult and you’re in the prime of your life. You’re probably in the midst of building a successful career, travelling around the world and possibly getting ready to start a family. At this age, one of the most common pieces of advice you’re likely to receive from the older generation is: enjoy life to the fullest while you’re still young, healthy, fit and full of energy.
After all, as age starts kicking in, you’ll feel a decline in your energy levels and occasional body aches and pains. You’ll need to go for regular medical check-ups as you are more susceptible to diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer and osteoporosis.
However, there is one disease which is more prevalent among the younger age group. It affects teenagers, right up to those in their early 50s although the majority of sufferers develop this disease in their 20s and 30s.
What’s this disease we’re talking about? It’s Systemetic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), the most serious and common form of lupus.
Systematic Lupus Erythematosus
“SLE is a multi systemic chronic autoimmune disease which usually affects young ladies at a fertile age,” explains Dr. Soehardy Zainudin, consultant nephrologist from Tropicana Medical Centre. “The function of antibodies in your body, which are produced by your white blood cells, is to fight bacteria and viruses. SLE occurs when the antibodies attack parts of the human body instead.”
SLE symptoms may differ, depending on where your body is being attacked. For instance, if it is your joints, you will feel deep joint pain or you will experience migraines if you are suffering from lupus migraine, which is the most common form of SLE, according to Dr. Soehardy.
Another widespread symptom of SLE is the ‘butterfly rash’, which is usually triggered in areas of your body that is exposed to the sun — particularly your face and neck.
SLE can be mild. You may not experience any symptoms and may “accidentally” discover it from a blood test or it can more serious where it affects your quality of life.
Another important point to note is that SLE can actually develop overnight. However, it may take a few days to about a week to notice. So, if you experience any unusual symptoms out of the blue, be sure to consult a doctor. Dr. Soehardy says that while there is no cure for SLE it can be controlled with treatment. This includes medication such steroids and in more serious cases, the use of some chemotherapy drugs may be prescribed.
To avoid relapses, you may need to make a few lifestyle changes such as staying out of the sun. You should also alert your doctor to stressful periods in your life — like when you’re sitting for important exams — so that he or she can make the necessary adjustments to your treatment. This is because stress may cause a relapse as well.
Also, avoid outdoor activities and places with cold climates. “Your doctor will be able to advice you on this, as no 2 patients are the same,” says Dr. Soehardy.
Lupus Among Women
9 out of 10 SLE patients are women. While the exact cause of SLE remains unknown, there are several possibilities as to what can trigger this condition. “This includes ultraviolet (UV) rays, traditional medicines, certain drugs and even eating alfalfa sprouts,” explains Dr. Soehardy.
A question that often comes up is, “Why is it so prevalent among women?” The reason has not been determined but it is believed that it has something to do with estrogen levels. In fact, in some cases, women who are diagnosed with SLE may not experience any symptoms after menopause, as estrogen levels tend to decrease dramatically during this time.
The good news is SLE does not affect your fertility. “However, you are not advised to have a baby while you are undergoing treatment for SLE as it increases the possibility of a miscarriage,” advices Dr. Soehardy
Lupus nephritis happens when your kidney is attacked by your immune system, which then leads to SLE. The symptoms of this condition include bubbles in the urine, water retention in your legs and stomach and water in your lungs.
To determine if you have lupus nephritis, you will need to undergo a blood and urine test. If high amounts of protein leakage and blood are detected in your urine, this may be a sign that you could be suffering from lupus nephritis.
Severe cases can lead to acute kidney failure, which causes toxins to pile up and the patient will need to undergo a blood transfusion.
SLE and Your Eyes
SLE can affect your eyes in 2 ways. “The first is related to the disease itself whereby your own immune system “attacks” your eyes. Second, it may be a complication that arises from the treatment of the disease,” explains Dr. Khor Sim Ee, consultant ophthalmologist from Tropicana Medical Centre.
One of the most common symptoms to look out for is eye redness. “Unlike conjunctivitis which presents discomfort and itchiness, of eye redness due to SLE can be painful and will not disappear with normal eye drops or treatment,” she says. “Another symptom is blurring of vision.”
SLE treatment can cause complications such as retinopathy and glaucoma. “Awareness is important. If you experience any problems with your eyes, it is best to get them checked,” says Dr. Khor
If left untreated, your immune system may continue to affect other parts of your body, making your condition worse. So, be sure to consult your doctor. Since SLE affects the younger age group, it’s absolutely vital to manage the disease so quality of life does not decline through the years.